What do Keshawn Martin, Donald Brown, and Terrance Knighton have in common? The New England Patriots gave them nice contracts at the start of the year with a lot of guaranteed money, and then parted ways before the first game of the 2016 season.
All salary figures via PatsCap.com
The Patriots gave Martin a 2-year extension this January with a $600,000 signing bonus and an additional $25,000 workout bonus, for a total of $625,000.
Brown received a $50,000 signing bonus, $250,000 of his base salary guaranteed, an additional $30,000 workout bonus, for a total of $330,000. Brown also received an injury settlement as part of his release.
Knighton earned a $250,000 signing bonus, a $100,000 workout bonus, and an additional $300,500 in weight incentives, for a total of $650,500.
The Patriots rarely ever cut ties with players that receive this much guaranteed money. The only players that get that much money upfront and don’t play a game either retire (OG Robert Gallery) or ask to be released (DT Tommy Kelly, WR Reggie Wayne).
So it’s notable that the Patriots have decided to cut their losses after investing so much into these players.
And it’s not just the free agents, either. The Patriots have also cut ties with 2014 4th round pick and former starting center Bryan Stork and 2015 3rd round pick Geneo Grissom. These are two former high draft picks, one of which was a key starter, and the Patriots have decided to just move in a different direction.
There are definitely two ways to evaluate these moves and your path depends on how much you like head coach Bill Belichick.
For the Patriots fans, Belichick is a genius that is willing to cut ties with players that have underperformed, or have been outplayed by younger and cheaper alternatives.
The Patriots brought in Barkevious Mingo and Shea McClellin, both of whom have looked better than Grissom, while the undrafted sophomore David Andrews has been better than Stork. Brown was hurt and unable to play, so undrafted rookie D.J. Foster won the role, and Knighton was outplayed by rookie Vincent Valentine.
Keshawn Martin was hurt earlier this offseason, but returned to the field and...well, I still can’t wrap my head around this decision unless Danny Amendola is ready to practice today.
It’s smart of Belichick to move on from these players if he knows they’re not a good fit, instead of waste precious roster spots and time trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. His ability to admit that he was wrong and quickly move forward is one of his defining character traits that should be applauded.
But Belichick’s detractors will quickly point out that he shouldn’t be making these mistakes in the first place. He shouldn’t be investing early draft picks in projects like Geneo Grissom that don’t pan out, and he shouldn’t be wasting valuable cap space in a year with so many priority free agents.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. Sometimes the risk turns into Sebastian Vollmer and Randy Moss, sometimes it becomes Chad Ochocinco and Jermaine Cunningham. Perhaps tight end Clay Harbor is going to be a valuable contributor, or he and his $400,000 signing bonus will be kicked to the curb soon enough.
We have to wait and see, but Belichick’s ability to move forward from mistakes is extremely important, especially when it’s his own darned fault that other players are better options.
The emergence of rookie Vincent Valetine, who was considered a reach, is the reason why Terrance Knighton was expendable. The undrafted signings of David Andrews and D.J. Foster made Bryan Stork and Donald Brown superfluous. It’s a cannibalistic way of evaluating roster moves, but it’s the truth.
If Belichick didn’t do such a good job of finding cheap talent, then the more expensive options would remain on the roster. He should still work on doing a better job in the draft- drafting OT T.J. Clemmings would look nice right about now, as would wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Jamison Crowder, or running backs Buck Allen and Jeremy Langford- and self-reflect to determine why Grissom didn’t work out.
But I’m sure most would agree that Belichick has done a pretty okay job with the Patriots over the years, and that he has earned the right to test out whatever roster moves he believes will help the team in the long run.